Dale Yu: Review of Nagaraja

Nagaraja

  • Designers: Bruno Cathala and Theo Riviere
  • Publisher: Hurrican
  • Players: 2
  • Age: 9+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA

In Nagaraja, two players compete against each other trying to explore a long lost temple trying to find the sacred relics of Ananta.  Each player takes their own temple board, which is really just a 3×3 grid, and orients it so that the three entrances are facing him.  Six sacred relics and three cursed relics are mixed facedown and then randomly placed on the nine outside spaces of the grid.

The game revolves around these temples, a deck of 48 multi-use cards and a bunch of fate sticks – colors green (short), white (medium) and brown (long).  Each player is dealt a hand of 5 cards.  The 17 room tiles are shuffled, placed in a stack, and the top tile is revealed for the first round (place an amulet on it if it is a special location tile). Rounds are played until one of the three end game conditions is met: a player gains 25 points (auto win), a player reveals all three of their cursed relics (auto lose) or a player fills in all 9 spaces of their temple board. In each round, the same 4 steps are cycled thru:

Step 1: Call of Fate – Players look at thru their hands and secretly and simultaneously select any number of cards which share a symbol in the upper corners (icon could be cards, relics, room tiles, fate stick).  In the top center of each card is a depiction of some fate sticks.   You collect all the fate sticks shows on all the cards that you played and then cast them.   The fate sticks are really nice looking d4.  The brown ones are the longest and have the most success results on them.  The green ones have the fewest successes, but they have the highest probability of Nagas (the S shaped line).  You need the most success results to win the card, but you will need nagas in order to play cards from your hand.

Step 2: Confrontation – As I mentioned above, the cards can be used to choose which fate sticks you roll.  But the cards also have another action, which can involve the relics, room tiles, fate sticks or cards of either you or your opponent.  In this second step, players can take turns to discard a stick from their roll which shows a Naga and then play a card from their hand and use the action printed on it.  The other player then gets a chance to play.  Whenever both players pass consecutively, this step ends.  It may be that there are no cards played if no Nagas are rolled.  The possibilities include: causing your opponent to discard fate sticks, peeking or swapping relic tiles, adding fate points to your count, rotating/moving/swapping room tiles, adding or removing cards from a hand, etc.  Once all desired cards are played, each player tallies up their fate points and the player with the most points wins the room tile.  If there is a tie, the player with the start player token wins the tile.

Step 3: Exploration – The player who won the tile now places it in their temple.  It must either be adjacent to one of the three entrances or must be orthogonally adjacent to a previously played tile.  Now check to see if you have generated a path from any of your entrances to either an amulet on a tile or a relic at the edge of the board.  If you connect to an amulet, pick it up and keep it face up in front of you; you can use this at any time for the action depicted on it.  If you connect to a relic, flip the relic over to see its type and VP worth.  As long as the tile is face up, you score points as printed on the relic.  If the path to the relic is interrupted later, the relic is lipped back over

Step 4: New Deal – Check to see if the game has ended (one player has 25 points, one player has 3 cursed relics visible or one player has a full temple of 9 tiles).  If so, figure out who wins.  Otherwise, the player who did NOT win the previous tile takes the start player token.  The new start player takes 3 cards from the deck, chooses two of them to add to their hand, and the remaining card is given to the other player to add to their hand.  A new round begins.

Again, the game ends when one of three things happens

1] a player has all three cursed relics visible – that player automatically loses (Regardless of VP count)

2] a player has 25 VPs – that player wins automatically

3] a player has 9 room tiles in their temple – the player with the most points showing wins; ties go in favor of the player who placed the ninth room tile.

A winning board

My thoughts on the game

I have had a soft spot for Hurrican going all the way back to Mr. Jack.  I don’t normally play that many 2p only games, but the strategy and tension of that game always appealed to me.  In Nagaraja, players are pitted against each other on a number of levels, and it leads to a very interesting game.

The cards provide some interesting opportunities – you have to decide how to best use them.  You can play them for the fate sticks or you can hold onto them and hope to play their card action if you get naga results on your fate sticks. There are going to times when you both want to play a card to give you a lot of fate sticks while you also want to hold onto it because you really could use the special action on the card.   Of course, even if you hold onto a card for the action, lady luck has to shine on you a bit because if you don’t roll a Naga, you end up doing Nada.

Additionally, there is a bit of hand management thrown into the mix, as you’re only going to get one or two cards back at most each turn, so you really have to choose your spots wisely.  The distribution of new cards also adds an interesting twist – there are times when I have felt it best to only bid one card in order to gain control over the distribution of the three cards at the end of the round.   I have found it important to spend actions (or find amulets) that allow you to draw cards, because sometimes you just need to have 4 or 5 cards in your hand in order to match up icons to bid high enough for a tile OR to have the selection of actions to use in the later phase of the round.

The game has a nice back-and-forth to it, and we had plenty of laughs trading the trap tile between us.  The actions of the different cards can be strong, but you still have to roll the Nagas in order to use them.  Who knows – maybe your opponent will play the same action against you!  As the maps grow, you can wreak havoc by turning a crucial tile to disrupt paths (and thus change relic scoring).   You can also try to switch the position of relics – maybe to give yourself the one extra point you need to win OR maybe to try to reveal your opponent’s third cursed relic and cause an immediate loss. 

The artwork is pleasing and the iconography is easy to follow.  As far as the actual components go, the start player marker (the scroll) seems abnormally huge for the game, but it is what it is.  The box itself is the same size as Mr Jack, which seems a bit large for a 2p game, but if the box size didn’t bother you from Mr Jack, it shouldn’t bother you here either. The cards were miscut, and we had cards that were centered, off to the left and off to the right. It didn’t really affect gameplay as I never really needed/wanted to look at the cards enough to remember which cards came with which back – but it was weird to see the cards like that.

Nagaraja provides a challenging 2-player game that plays in about 20-30 minutes.  There is a fair amount of depth here, and so far, it feels like there is good replay value in it due to the different way the cards can play out.   The game always feels close, and even if one player wins a number of tiles in a row, this often puts them in jeopardy of revealing all three of their cursed relics…

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale
  • Neutral. James Nathan
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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